Monday, April 24, 2006

Beyond Forgiveness to Blessing

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43-45)
Some Christians think that you don’t have to forgive unless the other person has apologized. But in the sermon on the mount, Jesus blows that idea out of the water. He tells us to love our enemies. He tells us to bless those who curse us. He tells us to do good to those who hate us. He tells us to pray for those who spitefully use us.

These are obviously not people who have repented and apologized to us, and yet, we are called to do much more than forgive them. To forgive means that we let go of the offense someone has perpetrated against us. We give up the right for pay-backs or revenge. We forgive, not just for their sake, but for ours as well. By releasing the offender, we release ourselves from the offense, and are no longer held back by it — we are free to move forward with our lives.

But it is not enough to take a neutral position, simply to refrain from hating our enemies, cursing those who curse us, doing ill toward those who hate us, and being spiteful to those who use us. Such restraint is wise and healthy and good. But much more is required of those who follow Jesus.

Now, someone will say, “But you don’t understand what so and so did to me.” And maybe I don’t. But Jesus does, for He was mocked and scorned and nailed to a cross. And He tells you to love and bless your enemies.

Yes, it is very difficult — even impossible — to live that way. In our own strength, we cannot do it at all. We need divine assistance. That’s why Jesus adds, “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” The essence of fatherhood is inheritance, which means that a son is like his father. Our Father in heaven shows love and forgiveness even to those who hate Him. They may reject that love and forgiveness and so never enjoy His blessing, but that is because of their own unbelief and rebellion, not because the Father is unwilling.

And indeed, we might love our enemy and it won’t make one bit of difference to them. We might bless those who curse us, and find that they curse us still. We might do good for those who just continue to hate us. We might pray for the sake of those who spitefully use us, and they may yet persecute us.

No matter. It is the nature of the sons of God to manifest the character of our Father in heaven. Now, that is not how we become the sons of the Father. We become His sons through faith in Jesus Christ. “But as many as received Him [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). Through faith in Him, we are born again, born from above, by the Spirit of God. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can begin to forgive, love and bless our enemies. When we do, we demonstrate that we truly are sons of the Father, because that is what He does. Indeed, we have the authority and power to act that way precisely because we are His children.

As children of God, we have the right to display His love, His grace, and even His power to the world. Jesus invites us to move past our own resources and step into divine sonship with Him, to let the love of the Father be revealed in and through us. It is a radical shift for us, but that is why He has given us the Holy Spirit. It is in this divine empowerment that we learn, not only how to forgive, but to move beyond forgiveness to blessing.



The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

The Kingdom of Heaven on Earth
Keys to the Kingdom of God
in the Gospel of Matthew

by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.